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GP2 Notebook: Matsushita to ART; Gasly Set for Super Formula

While things have appeared quiet in the GP2 paddock lately, business looks to be picking up as we hit the mid-point of February, with a pair of news items being released recently.

 

Matsushita Named as First ART GP2 Driver

Honda junior driver and McLaren Formula 1 development driver Nobuharu Matsushita will spend a third season in GP2 in 2017, the Japanese manufacturer confirmed in a YouTube livestream.

The Japanese driver will drive their No. 7 car, piloting the first of their two cars for the second season in a row.

Matsushita, 23, has made 41 starts in the series over two seasons, with two wins in Hungarian and Monaco sprint races in 2015 and 2016.

His most high-profile moment as a driver came went he was banned for the Austrian round of the 2016 season after weaving under the safety car while leading the Baku sprint race before crashing out.

He is set to run in his 50th GP2 event at the feature race of the Austrian round this year. It will be the first time in ART’s history that a driver has competed in three separate seasons for the team.

Matsushita may be under pressure to perform in 2017 after finishing behind his team-mates in previous years. Stoffel Vandoorne won the title in 2015 while sharing the garage with him, while Sergey Sirotkin finished third in the standings ahead of11th-placed Matsushita last season.

His team-mate is yet to be announced, but it is heavily rumored that former ART GP3 driver Alex Albon will graduate to the series to partner the Japanese driver after taking part in post-season testing in Abu Dhabi in December.

 

GASLY’S TEAM CONFIRMED

Meanwhile, 2016 GP2 champion Pierre Gasly will drive a Team Mugen car in Super Formula this year.

It has been known for some time that he would be making the switch to the Japanese series as he temporarily continues his career away from the Formula 1 feeder series, but Honda finally announced the team and car he will pilot, sitting at the wheel of Mugen’s No. 15 machine.

The Frenchman will partner 2013 series champion, Naoki Yamamoto, with the Japanese driver racing at the team for the seventh year. It is the first time that they will run two cars in a season of the championship since Yuhki Nakayama and Yamamoto drove together in 2014.

EMAIL CAMERON AT cpatersonf1@gmail.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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F2 Open Wheel

GP2 Champion Gasly Moves to Super Formula

For the second year straight, a GP2 champion will race in Super Formula a year after winning the GP2 Series, with Pierre Gasly moving to a yet unnamed team in the series for 2017.

Red Bull confirmed the news in an update on the future of their junior drivers, with Gasly the next-in-line for a Formula One seat as the most experienced member of their program.

“It is all going to be very different,” he said on their website. “I have no experience with the car or the tracks and I know that the Japanese culture, philosophy, way of working, just about everything is different. It is a fantastic new challenge and I love that.”

He is unable to return to the series as champions can’t race after they have won the title. The Frenchman is the fifth straight champion to be unable to find a seat in F1 after their triumph, following in the footsteps of Davide Valsecchi, Fabio Leimer, Jolyon Palmer and Stoffel Vandoorne.

Gasly is currently waiting for a possibility to race in Formula One, with Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniil Kvyat retained for Toro Rosso for a first full season together as teammates in 2017.

The 20-year-old makes the same move that now-McLaren F1 driver Vandoorne made during 2016. The Belgian won two races in the nine-race season for Docomo Team Dandelion Racing, finishing in fourth in the Drivers’ standings with 27 points, six points behind eventual winner Yuji Kunimoto.

The last season of the series included many well-known motorsport racers, including former F1 drivers Andre Lotterer, NarainKarthikeyan, Kamui Kobayashi and Kazuki Nakajima and ex-Indycar driver Bertrand Baguette.

Former champions include F1 race winner Ralf Schumacher (1996) and drivers who have been on the podium in F1, Aguri Suzuki (1988) and Pedro de La Rosa (1997).

His season begins at the Suzuka Circuit on April 23 with visits to famous Japanese tracks like the Fuji Speedway and Twin Ring Motegi before the season ends at the same track on November 22.

EMAIL CAMERON AT cpatersonf1@gmail.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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2016 GP2 Year in Review: Pierre Gasly

Despite having no wins and just four podiums in 27 starts before the 2016 season, Pierre Gasly grew into a champion with a superb full sophomore season in GP2.

 

Points: 219 (1st)

Car No.: 21

Driver Name: Pierre Gasly

Team Name: Prema Racing

Total Races: 22

Victories: 4

Podiums: 9

Top-Fives: 11

Top-10s: 16

Average Start: 7.7

Average Finish: 4.5

DNFs: 2

 

May was an important month for Gasly, a Red Bull junior driver. Before the first weekend of the GP2 Series in 2016, news broke that Max Verstappen was replacing Daniil Kvyat at Red Bull in Formula One and speculation began over the future of Kvyat, now at Toro Rosso, with the Frenchman next in line for a seat.

It was important than that he got off to a good start in his racing season, with two podiums at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, the first time he had taken two podiums in one race weekend.

A miserable weekend at Monaco followed, albeit caused by having to start from the pit lane after missing the weighbridge in qualifying. He had only qualified 16th. This is one of the features of his season, at times he would have random qualifying results despite having five pole positions for feature races, the most of any driver.

At this point, it was unclear who was a possible championship contender due to 10 drivers swapping positions at various stages.

A second-place finish in the sprint race in Baku was his only podium between Monaco and British feature races, a gap of three races between two Monaco rounds and the feature race in Baku was his longest spell without a podium in the entire year. During this time, teammate Antonio Giovinazzi capitalized and grabbed two victories in Baku and started growing as a driver, putting the pressure on.

As the summer came, Gasly moved into domination mode. He qualified in the top two for every race between Britain and the end of the year, while wins in Britain, Hungary and Belgium feature races propelled him to championship contention.

Despite Giovinazzi winning three out of four races between the Belgian sprint race and Malaysian feature race and leading the championship with two races to go, Gasly had the much stronger end of season form, finishing with two podiums in the last three races to take the crown by just eight points. Gasly is a deserved champion.

Highlight of 2016: The emotions of winning his first GP2 race in Britain, with a gap of 693 days between his first race and first victory. Winning the championship in Abu Dhabi obviously also stands out.

Downfall of 2016: The downfall was just his early form as he got settled into the season. Like a fine wine, as time went on he got better and better.

Notes for 2017: As champion, he cannot return to the series in 2017, and finds himself still outside the Toro Rosso Formula One team. Possibly racing in Japan in Super Formula, like previous GP2 champion Stoffel Vandoorne did in 2016, but could be given an outside chance of a seat in F1 if a driver like Carlos Sainz shockingly departs for Mercedes or Daniil Kvyat is sacked during the season.

EMAIL CAMERON AT cpatersonf1@gmail.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Gasly Takes Advantage in Title Race

Pierre Gasly is now extremely close to becoming the 12th GP2 champion after his victory in the Abu Dhabi feature race.

The Prema Racing driver dominated from pole to take the win, having a consistently fast pace, while his championship rival Antonio Giovinazzi took damage limitation to finish sixth, being promoted to fifth in the final results.

Racing Engineering’s Norman Nato had a five-second time penalty for speeding in the pit lane after crossing the line in fifth, finishing just 1.5 seconds ahead of the Italian.

He got away well from the front of the grid and immediately established an advantage, going 2.5 seconds clear of then-second-place driver Sergey Sirotkin on the third lap, lapping 1.2 seconds faster than the Russian on that lap.

Gasly was also undoubtedly helped by the period of time before the pit stop where other drivers struggled on their old super-soft Pirelli tires before pitting for a set of mediums. Lap times fell by about two or three seconds, while Nobuharu Matsushita quickly passed his teammate after starting on the mediums. The Japanese driver was quickly 2.4 seconds ahead of Sirotkin, which highlights the tire issues.

Although Gasly’s times fell, he still had an advantage, before losing a slight amount of time having to be held in his pit box after pitting on the seventh lap before going back out on the track. For the next 24 laps, he superbly carved through the cars in front who were yet to pit like a Thanksgiving turkey and retake his lead with around five laps to go.

Giovinazzi did not have the same pace as his teammate. Gasly set a few fastest laps throughout the race, but the Italian didn’t set anything too sensational, only really improving in the final ten laps.

Before the race, Giovinazzi had a three-point lead over Gasly, but the Italian is now 12 points behind the French driver. Gasly now has a total of 219 points, with Giovinazzi on 207 points.

REVERSE GRID DRAMA?

The unique thing about the GP2 Series compared to other series is the reverse grid formula, turning the top eight around on the grid at the start of the final sprint race.

Giovinazzi starts in fourth, while Gasly starts eighth. Gasly will need to pass cars around him, such as ART’s Nobuharu Matsushita and Russian Time’s Artem Markelov (starting seventh and sixth) to find a comfortable place on track for enough points to keep his championship lead. The Italian has an easier position.

TITLE BATTLE

There are many possible results to decide the destination of the title.

Giovinazzi needs a points swing of 12 points to fight back, with a better countback record of five wins instead of his teammate’s four. Because he has more wins, if the two are level on points, the Italian will get the title.

– Giovinazzi has to win without the fastest lap (15 points) and have Gasly finish in seventh or lower (two points).

– The Italian could win with the fastest lap (15 + two points) and have his teammate finish in sixth or lower (four points).

– He needs to come second with the fastest lap (12 + two points) and Gasly finishing in seventh or lower (two points).

– Giovinazzi could finish second without the fastest lap (12 points) and have Gasly finish outside of the points in ninth or lower.

– He could also finish third with the fastest lap (10 + two points) with Gasly outside the points positions in ninth or worse.

Any other result sees Gasly walk away from Abu Dhabi with a trophy in his hand.

EMAIL CAMERON AT cpatersonf1@gmail.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.